Moving to Germany as an Australian
At the end of 2015, I decided to do something I’d always wanted to do and move overseas. I always had my heart set on Germany as I always enjoyed the food and beers (at least from my experience eating in German restaurants in Australia), the German engineering marvels, German cars and German history.
I took a job with BMW as a software engineer and found a place to live in Ulm, in the southern German state of Baden-Würtermberg. The town is just over the border from Bavaria, which is the region where the typical Australian German cuisine is based on.
I thought it’d be useful to make a list of things different between Australia and Germany for people considering the move. As someone who figured most of this stuff out by trial and error, I may have some things incorrect but feel free to reach out and let me know what I can improve.
Driving is either really fun or really scary, depending on what makes you tick. A lot of the highways have areas with unlimited speed limits, and it’s not uncommon to see cars in the left-hand lane (equivalent of right-hand lane in Australia) to be doing 250kph or more.
Owning or hiring a car is a good option to get around Germany and Europe as the trains can be as expensive as flights (though there’s a big difference in trains between here and Australia). However, parking isn’t generally as easy as it is in Australia, and most places you will need to pay.
Another difference is most cars in Europe, and especially older cars, are manual. This seems to be changing recently with a trend towards automatics, but if you’re hiring or buying a car, be prepared to see a lot of manual transmissions.
Compared to the Japanese/Korean/etc cars that sell well in Australia, Germans tend to like their German cars. Between BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Volkwagen and Opel, you won’t see too many other manufacturers on the roads. Be prepared to see some cars you know as Holdens here badged as Opels, such as the Astra and Vectra.
As part of my employment with BMW, there is an opportunity to get a car so I chose a BMW M235i. It’s impractical with only 2 doors and only 4 seats, but it makes up for it with horsepower and handling. It has been a lot of fun to explore many European countries and travel at speeds that would probably land you in jail in Australia.
My BMW M235i in Dunkel-Grau
The trains are so awesome in Germany compared to the shitboxes we have in Australia. There are two main types, the ICE and the non-ICE. The ICE is the best (and most expensive) and they travel at 250kph, have a restaurant with good food and beers, power-points, pull-down tables, etc.
If getting around slower and hungrier is your thing, you can take the non-ICE trains which are cheaper but often stop at all stations and don’t travel nearly as fast.
They are usually on time and cover basically everywhere worth visiting in Europe. Be prepared for some differences such as ticket inspectors on nearly every trip and even trains that split in two! This nearly caught me out multiple times.
Germans love to recycle, and you will probably be as perplexed as I was when I first encountered the Pfand-Machine, the Gelber-Sack, the bottle-return bins and more!
Many bottles and cans purchased in German stores have a deposit on the container itself, which can range from 8c to 25c. This deposit is returned to you when you take your bottles to a machine, which I call the Pfand-Machine (pfand is the German word for deposit).
As well as hanging onto your bottles and cans, Germans also have a special bag for recyclable containers without a deposit called the Gelber-Sack (that’s yellow bag in English). This bag is collected fortnightly from big piles in front of your house/apartment.
For other bottles, such as wine bottles, but not beer bottles (they have a pfand), there are large bins where you can place the glass sorted by their colour. There is a bin for white (weiß), brown (braun) and green (grün) bottles.
Food and Shopping
Germany isn’t as flexible with trading hours compared to Australia. For example, on Sundays, it’s normal for all shops to be closed except for servos (there’s a confusing word for Germans) and corner-stores (which are rare compared to the frequency that they’re found in Australia).
One thing that makes up for this, at least in my mind, is a lot of stores are open until 8pm every night. This is handy for grabbing something after work, which is often difficult to do in Australia where majority of shops shut between 5-6pm.
You will also be required to bring your own shopping bags or to purchase them at the store. If you are familiar with how Aldi operates in Australia, then you will have experienced how 95% of German supermarkets operate. The cashier always has a seat too. You also won’t find automated checkouts here.
Germans love their fests. You are probably familiar with Oktoberfest, but there are much more available during the summer months. I have attended a fest for the Danube river (with food available from all countries it runs through), for the town I live, for the spring (Frühlingsfest), for wine and some which I don’t even know what their purpose is, besides to eat delicious food and down tasty beers and wines.
Me at Oktoberfest
The Germans are generally fun, friendly people, but it can take a lot of getting to know someone here before they would consider you a friend. I found this different to Australia, where you can become friends pretty quickly with somebody.
When it comes to following rules and filling out paperwork, the Germans have got it down to a fine art. You can be scolded for crossing a road before the light is green if there are children that may see you and you can be prepared to fill out a huge stack of papers to do trivial things.
Germans also exclusively use 24 hour time and name their floors different (the bottom floor is 0, not the ground floor). Both of these things I have become accustomed to and now prefer.
Of course, in Germany, German is the standard language spoken. When I first arrived, I only knew how to say hello and thank-you. However, since started online courses, watching YouTube videos and discussing with my colleagues, I have picked up much more of the language.
I can typically order food, deal with staff at shops, etc with ease now, but I am far from fluent and also have difficulty understanding somebody speaking natively at their standard words-per-minute.
Luckily, English is quite common also, particularly by young people and in capital cities. Germans are often very interested in practicing their English skills with you, so it’s quite easy to communicate if you don’t know any of the language.
Being a Software Engineer
Working life in Germany is great - you typically have a week longer vacations, maternity leave is very supportive for both parents and there is a clear distinction between home and work.
There are many companies in Germany with big software divisions, such as the automotive companies, of which are mostly in the south (BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Porsche). In Berlin there are a number of big companies such as SoundCloud. A lot of the big players also have offices in German capitals, such as Google.
One thing that can catch you out when programming is the German layout keyboard - it’s different to the US standard layout. I found myself typing many z instead of y and vice-versa. It’s also much harder to program on, for example, the brace keys are available only with a modifier key that’s only in one spot. It’s also more difficult for me as a I have a US layout keyboard at home and a German layout at work.
Make the move!
I have no regrets about coming here. Before I came, I was quite unfamiliar with Europe, having only visited two other European countries before. This year alone I have done many road and plane trips to visit many other countries and it has been a blast.
It has really widened my eyes to the greater world and different cultures. It was easy for me to forget in Australia there’s a big world out there, but now I can experience it for myself.
Lichenstein Castle, just one of the beautiful castles in Germany.
Want to discuss this post? Just mention me @alexdickson.